Faye Levy, OUcooking.org Columnist - Food by Faye says:
It depends what kind of cake you are baking. Different factors cause cracks in different kinds of cakes.
* When I developed HONEY CAKE recipes, I have found they sink and crack if I made the batter too rich in oil or honey for the amount of flour. Sometimes I didn’t care if the cake turned out more delicious that way.
* With BUTTER CAKES or shortening cakes, the cake can sink or rise unevenly, leading to cracks, for these reasons:
“The eggs and liquid were too cold,” wrote my friend Susan Purdy in The Perfect Cake.” “If straight from the refrigerator, they can cause the creamed butter surrounding the air cells to chill, solidify and crack, letting out the air. Similarly, hot liquids will melt the fat around the air bubbles and destroy the aeration. Either of these problems breaks the emulsion, causes curdled batter, and results in loss of volume and lightness in the baked cake.”
“If the cake collapses or sinks in the center, it contains too much baking powder or baking soda or was over-beaten and became over-aerated.”
* POUND CAKES: If the top of the cake splits, wrote Susan Purdy, “this is normal, caused by pressure from the steam that escapes during baking.”
* CHEESECAKES: These often crack while the cake is baking or cooling. This can happen if the oven is too hot, if the cake was over-baked, or if the cake was placed somewhere too cool immediately after being removed from the oven.
To remedy this, many people bake cheesecakes in a low oven and let the baked cake cool in the oven, with the heat turned off, for an hour or longer.
Many bakers bake cheesecakes in a water bath to help prevent cracks, so the cake bakes in slow, moist even heat. To do this, you place the cheesecake in its pan (not a springform pan) inside a baking dish that contains hot water.
My favorite cheesecake has a sour cream topping baked for the last few minutes with the cake; it is delicious and covers any cracks that may have formed.
Norene Gilletz, OUcooking.org Columnist - The Flavor of Memory says:
Here are several reasons that a cake will crack on top:
1. The oven is too hot. Have the oven calibrated. If all your cakes and muffins come out with a cracked top and bake faster than the recipe says it should, your oven may be too hot. Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees F and try again!
2. You’ve added too much flour. Flour should be measured in nested measuring cups, not a glass measuring cup. Stir the flour to loosen it, then spoon it into a measuring cup. Level it off with the flat side of a knife. Never “knuck” (bang) the cup or the flour will settle and you’ll end up adding too much!
3. Batter is over-mixed. Once you add the flour, mix the batter only just until it disappears.
4. You don’t have enough liquid in your batter. Use a glass measuring cup to measure liquids and check the amount at eye level.
5. Baking pans are too dark so cake bakes too quickly, causing the top to set before the cake has finished rising.
6. Cake pan is too close to the top of the oven so the top sets and forms a crust before the cake has finished rising. Always place your cake pan on a middle or slightly lower rack so that the top of the cake is in the middle of the oven.
Judy Bart Kancigor, OUcooking.org Columnist - Melting Pot Memories says:
From http://www.baking911.com (a terrific resource):
There's all sorts of reasons why a cake cracks, but in the case of a sheet cake, it could come from over-baking. The longer it bakes, it gets dry, causing cracks. Try under-baking VERY slightly and cover with a kitchen cloth while cooling in the pan on a wire cake rack. This will keep in the moisture.
The site has a page entitled "cake problems." For "cracks" it says:
-Too much shortening, baking powder, or sugar.
-Taking the cake from the pan before it had cooled enough.
-The layers may have needed a little extra baking time.
Tamar Ansh, OUcooking.org Columnist - Nutritious and Delicious says:
There are all kinds of reasons cakes 'crack' on top; often it is because there is slightly too much batter for the type of pan you are using. However, since this is nearly impossible for me to solve in an overall equation, as every cake batter has its own amounts of flour, baking soda, baking powder, etc that make it thick and make it rise, and there are so many kinds of baking pans, I can suggest two things:
a. If you make one certain recipe each time in one certain pan and you know it's always a problem, next time fill the pan slightly less; use the remaining batter to make 3 or 4 cupcakes. Then see how it rises and bakes and if that solves your 'cracking' problem
b. Wilton sells what they call baking strips. These are long, silver colored on one side, cream on the other, insulated strips that you moisten and then wrap around your pans. I've used them many times with great results. The cake comes out even all the way around, with a nice flat surface (important for those who decorate cakes, like I sometimes do) and there is little or no cracking. Their only drawback is that they emit a smell during the baking process. It does not affect the cake's taste but it does affect the aroma in the house! Plus, you must be careful that the strips do not touch the sides of the oven or they will burn and have holes.